Kal Penn, Hollywood star and member of the Obama White House, is proud to have charted a life and career on his own terms.
The 2000 UCLA graduate has stayed connected to his alma mater in many ways, including speaking at a sociology department commencement and co-teaching a Fiat Lux course. Penn will return to UCLA again — virtually, this time — at 5 p.m. on Nov. 11, when he participates in a Dean’s Salon conversation with Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s dean of social sciences.
The event, which will take place on Zoom, is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Visit the event website to RSVP and for more information.
In a Q&A with the UCLA College, Penn spoke about how his experiences as an entertainer and policymaker have shaped his view. (Read the full interview on the UCLA College website.)
You’ve seen firsthand the challenges of making progress on diversity and inclusion, both in the White House and in Hollywood. What keeps you engaged and inspired to believe things can keep improving?
Seeing how much things can change if people participate. I mean, the system is designed to make us feel complacent, right?
Government moves slowly on purpose, even as our actual real lives get faster and faster. It can be frustrating to know you’re never going to get 100% of the changes you want, but that doesn’t mean you don’t aim for 100%, or even 1,000%. And if you only end up with 50%, that’s way better than nothing.
In the White House, I worked on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which ultimately got repealed, but it was really messy and very tricky, and took a long, long time. Unfortunately, the DREAM Act — which I also worked on — fell short by five Democratic votes. While that was a huge defeat, it was also the closest that the DREAM Act had ever come to getting passed. So there was this momentum that generations and generations of activists had put toward something that, hopefully, the next time around will move in the right direction.
Progress is still only possible if we show up.
What do you want the takeaway to be for people who read your book and attend your event?
There are times where you can be deeply serious and focus [on] and talk about things that are really tough to talk about. And then there are other times when you can totally just make a sex joke and write about playing the drinking game Edward Fortyhands on Weyburn at somebody’s apartment.
I love that my life is one where I can talk about those experiences at the same time that I can talk about what it’s like to write public policy or put an executive order through at the highest levels for the president of the United States. Life isn’t an either-or. We know that from being Bruins.